“… Our hearts were breaking to see the number of bodega owners and clerks getting infected with COVID19,” Debbie Almontaser, the co-founder of YAMA, told Bklyner. “We took a poll to see if they had the proper equipment to protect themselves and their customers and found that the majority don’t have access to masks, latex gloves, and hand sanitizer.”
As of now, YAMA knows of 65 cases of bodega owners and clerks testing positive with COVID-19, and over a dozen coronavirus-related deaths. These are essential workers who don’t have the luxury of staying at home. Almontaser noted that many of the bodega owners didn’t fully understand the danger of the coronavirus, so YAMA started the #NYCMaskMission to provide them with kits to better protect themselves.
YAMA is partnering with a company that will be bringing 100,000 KN95 masks from China. Of the masks, 75,000 of them will be distributed to the frontline workers, like health care workers, the FDNY, and the NYPD. The other 25,000 will be delivered to bodega owners.
Bodega owners will be receiving safety kits, which include masks, hand sanitizers, and gloves – something that Karima Hasan, 23, believes will benefit people like her father.
Hasan’s dad is a bodega clerk in Sunset Park. He spends hours working, even though Hasan and her family have told him many times to stay home. ‘I have to earn money,’ Hasan recalls her father telling her. She tells Bklyner that she often worries he’d catch the coronavirus, get really sick, and then expose the rest of the family.
While 100s of bodegas have shut down in NYC as deli sales dropped, “many of the city’s more than 16,000 bodegas are staying open to provide access to people who can’t get to major grocery stores or to serve as an alternative to customers unwilling to brave long lines at places like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods or even longer waits for grocery deliveries,” Eater reported. People like Hasan’s father are continuing to work amid the pandemic.
“He wears a mask but I don’t know how much that will protect him. He’s 54 years old and that’s prime time for this virus,” she told Bklyner. “But if he can’t stay at home, the least he can do is to stay safe.”
Within the past few weeks, YAMA partnered up with ATM World, ATM Access, and New York Cares to help with the distribution of the safety kits. ATM World and ATM Access will be distributing the kits to bodegas that host their ATMs. They are also supplying space in their warehouse to pack the kits. New York Cares will be supplying YAMA with volunteers to pack safety kits in Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx. Currently, YAMA has also applied to grants to hire four coordinators that will supervise the sites and make sure everyone is following the safety/social distancing guidelines. Another coordinator will be assigned to distribute to bodegas that don’t have ATMs. It’s all about the safety of bodega workers, Almontaser said.
“As a longtime New Yorker, a mother/aunt and cousin of a frontline worker serving in the NYPD, and one of the co-founders of YAMA which has seen so many of its members impacted, I simply could not sit idle while the number of people getting infected with COVID-19 and dying continued to rise,” Almontaser said. “I decided to channel my fear, restlessness. and despair into action.”
“Without these bodegas, thousands and thousands of NYers would be left without food and supplies to survive this pandemic,” she said. “We believe in our members and want to support them in every way they can to continue to be frontline heroes in their communities.”
To donate and take part in the mission, check out their LaunchGood page here.